Solar Lights and Kitchen Equipment for Nuns at Shugsep

The 76 nuns at  Shugsep Nunnery and Institute have asked for solar lights and essential items for their kitchen, dining hall, and prayer hall.

We’ve launched a fundraising campaign to raise $8,450 and supporters can donate here.

Solar Lights So the Nuns Can Study

The nuns and staff at Shugsep Nunnery have asked for solar-powered lights, both for security and so they can study outside their rooms in the evening. The balconies outside the nuns’ rooms need two solar lights each and we’d also like to install lights in each of the two garden areas in front of the main temple. The road to the nunnery gate is very dark, so two solar lights on the road would brighten the path and also help the students study at night.

nun studying at night Brian Harris

A nun at Dolma Ling studies at night by lamplight. The nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute have requested solar-powered lights so that the nuns can study and also for security. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Kitchen Equipment Needed

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute is home to 76 nuns plus staff. To make bread and dumplings twice a day for close to 100 people is a challenge. The nuns need a dough-making machine to lighten the considerable workload in preparing dough for bread and Tibetan dumplings.

Tibetan Buddhist nun making dough by Brian Harris

The nuns have requested a dough-making machine and a fridge-freezer for the kitchen at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, home to 76 Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

To reduce food waste and save costs by making food last longer, the nuns need a fridge/freezer so that they can purchase more food in bulk at a time since, during the pandemic, it is not always possible to go shopping. The nuns also need two steel shelf units for their pantry to help organize their food supplies.

In addition, the plastic chairs purchased for the dining hall 15 years ago are falling apart and it is time to replace them. The nuns want to avoid plastic and are happy to use wooden benches. The ceiling fans in the dining hall have also worn out and need replacing.

Prayer Hall Tables

The nuns at Shugsep have asked for 15 low tables for the prayer hall and 2 higher tables for the presiding masters or teachers. The office also requires a new large wooden storage unit for keeping the files.

Inside the Shugsep Nunnery Prayer Hall by Brian Harris

Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. Tables are needed in the prayer hall for the nuns and their teachers. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Our goal is to raise $8,450 to fund all the items requested by the nuns.

You can help the nuns at Shugsep with this essential equipment and furniture.

  1. Make a gift online at tnp.org
  2. Call our office in Seattle at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project (for Shugsep Solar and Kitchen)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216, Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Give a gift of securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project

Make a Donation

Prepping for Losar, Tibetan New Year

We’ve just received a wonderful batch of photos of the nuns preparing for Losar, Tibetan New Year, and we wanted to share them with you.

This year, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on February 12th, 2021. The year of the Iron Ox, 2148, begins on this day.

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. As part of the preparations for Losar, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects.

Here’s a slideshow for you. If you can’t see it, click here.

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You’ll see photos of the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute being taught by Gen. Karma, the ritual arts master. Usually, in the past, the nuns were not tested on the ritual arts such as making butter sculptures, making tormas, and drawing, but this year their teacher wanted to test the nuns to see how seriously they have taken their classes over the years. It takes great practice, precision, and patience to keep up these sacred arts.

You’ll also see photos of the nuns making khapse for Losar. These deep-fried Tibetan cookies or biscuits are are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. The nuns make them in a variety of shapes and sizes.

All the photos were taken by the Media Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

This year, because of the pandemic, Losar will be different from previous years. The Tibetan Health Department and the COVID-19 Task Force of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala have called for extreme precautions ahead of Tibetan New Year. They have urged Tibetans around the world to keep the gatherings small and safe.

The vaccine rollout began in India on December 16, 2020. As of the end of January, 152 Tibetan health workers and front line workers had received the first shot of the vaccine.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays 2021

This is an illustrated list of some of the major Tibetan Buddhist holidays in 2021, as well as some other important dates in the Tibetan calendar.

Front and back of the 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar

Front and back of the 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project publishes a calendar with the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and other important ritual dates, plus the phases of the moon, inspirational quotes, and major US and Canadian holidays. This beautiful 2021 calendar is available from our online store, along with prayer flags, incense, malas and much more. By purchasing the calendar, you help provide education, food, shelter, and health care for over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in northern India. Thank you!

February 12 2021: Losar, Tibetan New Year

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns make butter sculptures for Losar Tibetan New Year 2020. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team.

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a very special time of year.

This year, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on February 12th, 2021. The year of the Iron Ox, 2148, begins on this day.

In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. January 1st through February 11th, 2021 are the last weeks of the Tibetan year 2147. Next year, Losar begins on March 3, 2022, and is the year of the Water Tiger, 2149.

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It is customary to hang new prayer flags and to burn incense at Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The animals in the Tibetan calendar are somewhat similar to those in the Chinese zodiac and are in the following order: Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Boar. The five elements are in this order: Wood, Fire, Earth, Iron, and Water.

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home or room from top to bottom.

Losar, khapse, Tibetan New Year

Nuns at Dolma Ling making khapse biscuits for Losar These deep-fried Tibetan cookies made into different shapes and sizes are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team, 2020.

After that, the Losar or “new year” is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives. Special food is prepared such as khapse and a  noodle soup called guthuk. See this recipe for vegetarian guthuk. Tibetans hang new prayer flags and also burn incense and juniper bows to welcome the new year.

March 10 and March 12: Tibetan Uprising Day

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Nuns, monks, and lay people hold Tibetan flags and banners as they take part in a demonstration in Dharamsala, India to mark March 10th, Tibetan Uprising Day. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

While not a Tibetan Buddhist holiday, March 10th is a very important date in the Tibetan calendar. This year marks the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. Around the world, Tibetans and their supporters remember and pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet’s struggle. An estimated one million Tibetans have perished and 98% of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed under the Chinese occupation.

In 1950, Chinese Communist forces invaded Tibet. On March 10, 1959, Tibetans attempted to take back their country with an uprising in Lhasa. The protests were crushed with brutal force.

March 12th 2019 marks the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Uprising. Following the National Uprising Day on March 10th, thousands of Tibetan women gathered in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa to demonstrate for Tibetan independence.

Read this blog post to learn more about these important dates and why Tibetans are in exile.

May 26 2021: Saga Dawa Düchen

The most important month in the Tibetan calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th lunar month which runs this year from May 12 to June 10, 2021. The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Tibetan Buddhists.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Saga Dawa, reading words of the Buddha

Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. During 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the nuns had to observe physical distancing while reciting. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

In 2021, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on May 26th. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions, this occasion is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. Tibetan Buddhists make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, and compassion in order to accumulate greater merit. Tibetans believe that during this month, the merits of one’s actions are multiplied. On the 15th day of the month, the merits of one’s actions are hugely increased.

Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha.

Last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown in India, the nuns had to adapt their regular celebrations and rituals for Saga Dawa.

June 24, 2021: Universal Prayer Day

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, burning juniper

As on other auspicious occasions, such as Tibetan New Year and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday, nuns burn fragrant juniper boughs. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team

Universal Prayer Day or Dzam Ling Chi Sang falls on the 15th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, so in June or July. It is a time for spiritual cleansing. Tibetans hang prayer flags and burn juniper twigs.

July 6: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Birthday

His Holiness the Dalai LamaAround the world, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th will be celebrated with happiness and prayers for his good health and long life. This year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 86. The nuns will pray and make special offerings of tsok, khataks (prayer scarves), and sangsol (incense offering) to His Holiness. It’s a day of celebration with special food, such as Tibetan momos, the steamed savory dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on Tibetan Buddhist holidays.

July 14, 2021: Buddha’s First Teaching

Called Chokhor Düchen, this important day falls on the fourth day of the sixth lunar month. This day is the third “great occasion” (düchen) in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. It celebrates the first teaching by the historical Buddha, named Siddhartha at birth and commonly known as Shakyamuni Buddha.

On this day, over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha gave the teaching of the Four Noble Truths in Sarnath, shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. This event is known as the “turning of the wheel of dharma”. In Theravada traditions, this event is remembered on Dhamma Day, also known as Asalha Puja, and is generally marked on the full moon of the eighth lunar month. To celebrate Chokhor Düchen, Tibetan Buddhists make pilgrimages to holy places, offer incense, and hang prayer flags.​​

October 27, 2021: Buddha’s Descent from Heaven

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns praying. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Another “great occasion” or düchen in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar is Lhabab Düchen. This date commemorates the Buddha’s descent from the heavenly realm following his visit there to teach his deceased mother. Lhabab Düchen occurs on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month, according to the Tibetan calendar.

On this day, the karmic effects of our actions are multiplied millions of times. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, people engage in virtuous activities and prayer to gain merit and to mark this special occasion.

March 3, 2022: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

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Butter sculptures and offerings made by the Tibetan nuns for Losar, Tibetan New Year.

Losar in 2022 falls on March 3rd and is the Year of the Water Tiger 2149 according to the Tibetan calendar.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays in 2021 and the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar

It is still possible to order copies of our 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar. It’s a great way to keep track of the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and all the special events throughout the year.

The Tibetan Calendar

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project sells a wall calendar through our online store. Our 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar is available for order now.

The Tibetan Calendar vs. the Gregorian Calendar

The Tibetan calendar is thousands of years old and is different from the Gregorian calendar, which is the international standard used almost everywhere in the world for civil purposes. The Gregorian calendar modified the earlier Julian calendar, reducing the average year from 365.25 days to 365.2425 days and spacing leap years.

While the Gregorian calendar is a purely solar calendar, the Tibetan calendar (Tibetan: ལོ་ཐོ, Wylie: lo-tho) is a lunisolar calendar. This means that the Tibetan year is composed of either 12 or 13 lunar months, each beginning and ending with a new moon. A thirteenth month is added every two or three years so that an average Tibetan year is equal to the solar year.

Front and back of the 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar

Front and back of the 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar. The calendar has the Tibetan lunar calendar and ritual dates, as well as phases of the moon and major US and Canadian holidays. $12 each through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store.

In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. January 1st through February 11th, 2021 are the last weeks of the Tibetan year 2147.

Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on February 12th, 2021. The year of the Iron Ox, 2148, begins on this day. The year of the Water Tiger, 2149, begins on March 3, 2022.

The animals in the Tibetan calendar are somewhat similar to those in the Chinese zodiac and are in the following order: Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Boar. The five elements are in this order: Wood, Fire, Earth, Iron, and Water.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns making butter sculptures for Losar

Tibetan Buddhist nuns preparing butter scultpure decorations for Losar, Tibetan New Year. This is one of the photos in the 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar.

Tibetan New Year vs. Chinese New Year

This year, 2021, Tibetan New Year and Chinese New Year fall on the same date, February 12th. However, this is not always the case.

The Tibetan calendar follows three systems: solar day for a day, lunar day for a month, and zodiacal day for a year. The Chinese system of calendar follows the solar day system.

The dates for a new year in the Tibetan astrological system is cast according to the lunar calendar system, which has 371 days in a year as opposed to the solar calendar system which has 365 days in a year.

These few extra days in a lunar system accumulate to an extra month in a period of three years and it is thus balanced as a Da-Shol in the Tibetan astrological calendar system.

The Story of the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar

The Tibetan Nuns Project calendar was started over 20 years ago as a fundraising and friend-raising tool to help support hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns at nunneries in northern India.

selection of old Tibetan Nuns Project charity calendars

A selection of some of the early Tibetan Nuns Project charity calendars from 2002 to 2008. The Tibetan Nuns Project wall calendar is now full color and uses photos taken by the nuns themselves.

The astrologers at the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in Dharamsala (also known as Men-Tsee-Khang) supply us with the dates for the year’s Tibetan Buddhist holidays and holy days. It should be noted that the timings of the solstices and equinoxes in the calendar are based on north-eastern India where the nuns live so they may be slightly different from where you are.

The Tibetan Nuns Project calendar uses photographs taken by the nuns themselves. These photographs provide an intimate insight into the daily lives and religious and cultural practices of the nuns.

Buddhist nun with dog, Tibetan Nuns Project 2021 Calendar July photo for blog

Each summer, the nunneries that we support send a selection of photos for possible inclusion in the next year’s calendar. Once all the photos are gathered together a final selection is made.  We try to balance the images, choosing at least one photograph from each nunnery and selecting photographs that are windows into the nuns’ lives.

Each photo is captioned and paired with inspirational quotations from renowned Tibetan Buddhist teachers, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and others.

“It’s really exciting to open up emails from India and see the photos sent by the nunneries for possible inclusion in the calendar,” says Lisa Farmer, Executive Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

The proceeds from the sale of the Tibetan Nuns Project calendar are used to support over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns and seven nunneries in India. The calendar cost $12 plus shipping and is 6.5″ x 7″.

Thank you for buying our 2021 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar and helping the nuns!

Slideshows and Updates from all the Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries

As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to update you with slideshows and news from all the nunneries and institutions in India that we support. if you sponsor a nun, scroll down to her nunnery and find the associated slideshow.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DOLMA LING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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Due to the pandemic, the nunnery was put on lockdown from March 2020. Many of the nuns’ classes were put on hold until July, but the nuns continued to study on their own and also do prayers for all sentient beings during this difficult time. For safety, the nuns no longer gathered together for morning assembly, meals, or pujas. The nunnery has been closed throughout for outsiders, and staff and teachers were only allowed to go out of the nunnery complex once a week if necessary.

Dolma Ling Tibetan Buddhist nuns 2020

The main gate of the nunnery remains closed and notices have been posted to ensure that no one enters without permission. The nuns created a makeshift gatekeeper room and every day. two nuns wearing masks take turns to guard the gate, with an electronic thermometer, hand sanitizer, and materials to sanitize things such as food and fuel canisters ready to hand. Essentials such as vegetables, rice, flour, and fuel are kept at the gate under the sun for hours and sanitized properly before being brought into the nunnery.

During the holy month of Saga Dawa which this year ran from May 23 to June 21, the nuns once again read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, and Tengyur, the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings. Together, the 108-volume Kangyur and the 225-volume Tengyur form the basis of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The texts were divided among the nuns. The nuns maintained physical distancing while reciting the texts in their rooms, on the verandahs, in the dining hall, and in the prayer hall. It took about three days for the nuns to complete the reading of the whole set. The nuns also marked Saga Dawa with the burning of juniper branches.

On August 24, the nuns held their annual academic award ceremony, an event that usually takes place in late March or early April. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the nuns assembled in such a big group. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was the guest of honor and other special guests were Mrs. Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project and Mr. Norman Steinberg. The nuns received awards for academic achievement in their classes, the inter-house quiz competition, the handwriting competition, and memorization exams.

Since good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. the nuns are regularly making tofu for meals. Fruits and vegetables and juices are given to the nuns. Meals are eaten in the nuns’ respective rooms or apart in the courtyard.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHUGSEP. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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When the first lockdown of the year was announced, the senior nuns were in Bylakuppee, South India to where they were attending a special teaching from Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche. With the travel restrictions, the senior nuns had to remain in south India for a couple of months. Eventually, the senior nuns were able to return to Shugsep they quarantined for the required period. After the quarantine, they took COVID-19 tests and all tested negative.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns gardening at Shugsep Nunnery 2020To prevent the disease from spreading inside the nunnery, we shut the gate to visitors and all the transactions for prayers were done online. We had the basic necessities delivered to our gate so that we could stay isolated. We also barred the staff and students from leaving the nunnery grounds until and unless it was urgent. Weekend outings for the students were cancelled and the staff were strictly instructed not to leave the premises without permission.

In mid-June, the results of the annual exams for 2019-20 were announced and classes for 2020 officially began in July. At the beginning of August, the summer retreat started and lasted for 45 days from August 4 to  September 17. During that period, we organized a lot of debates, essay competitions, and public speaking for the students.

Recently, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute had a drawing competition among the younger students and we are glad that all of them participated and showed their talents. Classes stopped on December 14th for the annual examinations with a study holiday of one week after every test. The examinations begin on December 24th and the last tests will be on January 25th.

December 7, 2020, marked the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and Institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Geden Choeling Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT GEDEN CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the major routine activities of the nuns such as in-person classes, debating practice, group religious activities, and other social and cultural gatherings were stopped. However, the ten nuns preparing for the Geshema exams continued to attend regular classes taught by the three Buddhist philosophy teachers. All the other nuns have been learning through online classes run by their respective teachers who also provide notes and homework. The nuns memorize texts and are doing well in their studies in their rooms and are always in touch with their teachers.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala

In terms of health care and emotional matters, all the nuns are in good health. They received frequent talks and advice from Geden Choeling Nunnery’s Abbot, office administrator, teachers, and Gekoe (Disciplinarian) to keep them mentally strong without any fear and anxiety during this pandemic period.

All the nuns and staff members are restricted from visiting outside places and the market area since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. No visitors are allowed in the institute, except for prayer offerings by the well-wisher. The nuns maintain daily hygiene and sanitation using sanitizing spray for COVID-19.

Finally, the nuns hold regular prayer sessions twice a day from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.

Tilokpur Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT TILOKPUR. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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Here’s an update on the current condition of Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling at Tilokpur and the nuns’ activities and initiatives over the last couple of months during this pandemic. In general, so far, the 87 nuns are mentally and physically healthy and doing well. To cope with this pandemic, they are strictly following all the basic instructions provided by the government and their medical assistant, such as hand sanitizing, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing. The nuns are still not allowed to leave the nunnery except for the kitchen runner. No visitors are allowed to enter the nunnery grounds.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving wool items from Wool-Aid

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteers at Wool-Aid

In December, the nuns received two large boxes of handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteer knitters at Wool-Aid.

In terms of education and other activities, the nuns are continuing with their philosophy classes, monastic debate practice, and computer learning in person, with only English classes being taught online. The younger nuns are also learning painting and drawing. The nunnery holds two prayer sessions each day, in the morning and evening, to pray for all sentient beings and for the betterment of this world.

The nuns wrote, “We are making our best attempt not to get caught with any virus in the community so everyone remains safe and healthy. We hope that this pandemic will finish soon and that everyone can enjoy normal living.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHERAB CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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When the pandemic hit in mid-February 2020, 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling were away from the nunnery in the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes with their philosophy teachers who were there. Shortly after, the coronavirus lockdown in India happened and all classes were suspended. Eventually, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling.

The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley marked the holy month of Saga Dawa as always with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows. During the holy month, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well-being. The nuns also offered the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DORJEE ZONG. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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Dorjee Zong Nunnery is one of the oldest centres of monastic education in Zanskar and has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization. This remote 700-year-old nunnery now provides much-needed educational opportunities for young girls and women.

Young Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zaskar

In 2019, Dorjee Zong began a major expansion project and good progress was made last year. The housing block and the structure of a multi-purpose two-story building were completed before extreme weather shut down construction in October. The two-story building contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit India in the spring, we feared that no construction would be possible because most of the labor force comes from Nepal and strict restrictions would prevent their travel. However, in July and August, the nunnery was able to move forward gradually with the building process.

As life after the nationwide lockdown in the spring began slowly getting back on track, the nuns’ committee decided to move forward to complete the interiors of the multi-purpose building with work such as plastering of the floors, electrical work fittings etc. They have also undertaken the construction of the bathroom and toilet block needed to go with the housing block. Around six to seven local village workers were hired for this job because outside laborers were stopped from coming to Zanskar. All labor work this summer was done by local village people under the guidance of the working committee.

Currently, the housing block is being used as living quarters on the ground floor for the young nuns, while the top-floor rooms are being used for multiple purposes including as temporary classrooms, office, and a meeting room.

During the lockdown, the younger nuns from nearby villages temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns were not able to stay at Dorjee Zong because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe physical distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.

In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5. The bus has arrived in Zanskar and is ready for use. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in India are currently closed. We will keep you updated.

Sakya College for Nuns

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SAKYA COLLEGE FOR NUNS. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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Sakya College for Nuns is situated in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and is home to 55 nuns. It is one of the seven nunneries and institutes of higher learning in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project through our sponsorship program.

Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.

Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.

The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns learn yoga at Sakya College for Nuns Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.

Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.

The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.

In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”

The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity!

Slideshow and news from Sakya College for Nuns

Here is a special update with a slideshow and news from Sakya College for Nuns showing life at the College during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sakya College for Nuns is situated in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and is home to 55 nuns. It is one of the seven nunneries and institutes of higher learning in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project through our sponsorship program.

Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.

Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.

Here’s a slideshow. Click the arrows on the side of the images. Can’t see it? Click here.

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The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.

Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.

Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.

The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.

In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”

The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to those who sponsor nuns at Sakya College for Nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity.

10th Anniversary of Shugsep: Preserving an Ancient Spiritual Tradition

December 7, 2020 is the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and Institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is also a celebration of the bravery, determination, and dedication of the Shugsep nuns, many of whom were imprisoned and tortured in Tibet and who escaped to India seeking freedom and education.

inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery in 2010, 10th anniversary of Shugsep

The inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery on December 7, 2010.

Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in northern India on the outskirts of Dharamsala and is now home to 76 Tibetan nuns. Many of those nuns risked their lives fleeing their homeland to seek sanctuary in India. These nuns wish nothing more than to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs.

before Shugsep Nunnery, Tibetan Buddhist nuns in exile

A Tibetan Buddhist nun studies in a damp, moldy room before Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in exile.

Prior to the construction of the new nunnery, the nuns lived in an overcrowded building that was falling apart. The rooms were damp and filled with mold and one nun lived under the stairs because of lack of space. There was no road to the building and everything had to be carried more than a kilometer.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, Shugsep Nunnery

A Tibetan Buddhist nun carries a load of bricks to the building site of the new Shugsep Nunnery. There was no road to the building and everything had to be carried more than a kilometer.

In May 2008, 58 Shugsep nuns moved into the nunnery that was still under construction. On December 7, 2010, His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially inaugurated the nunnery. Shugsep is one of two nunneries built and completely supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.

Learn more about Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. See a video of its history and take a guided video tour.

The Education of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

The following Q&A about the education of Tibetan Buddhist nuns is a special interview with Elizabeth Napper, PhD. Dr. Napper is the US Founder and Board Chair of the Tibetan Nuns Project and is a scholar of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. She is the author of Dependent-Arising and Emptiness, translator and editor of Mind in Tibetan Buddhism, and co-editor of Kindness, Clarity and Insight by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Q: What was education like in Tibet before 1959?
A: Traditionally, Tibet pre-1959 was a pre-industrial age feudal society for the most part. There was no general education and, in pre-1959 Tibet, that was true of the lay people as well. Education was a specialized skill for people who needed it. The children of traders would get an education because they were carrying out a business and the people who were going to be government functionaries, who worked in the government, were well educated. But ordinary people were not literate. So that was the starting point.

Tibetan meditation, Tibetan Buddhist nun meditates

An elderly Tibetan Buddhist nun meditating in Zanskar, northern India. Historically, nuns had little access to education but spent their time in prayer and meditation. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Q: In Tibet, how did the lives of monks and nuns differ?
A: In Tibet, a large part of the population, both men and women, chose the monastic lifestyle, but that meant very different things. In some ways, the majority of monasteries and nunneries were not all that different. The bulk of them were relatively small institutions in villages and local communities, and the major function of monks and nuns was to do prayers on behalf of the lay people. Lay people made offerings to monks and nuns who then performed prayers on their behalf. That was the back and forth between these two groups of people.

However, the monasteries had a very rich and active intellectual tradition going back to the 11th century when Buddhism was revived in Tibet. Monks had the opportunity go to larger institutions and engage in the study of the philosophical tradition of Buddhism. By contrast, nuns who were motivated to do more would go into retreat and spend long periods of time in solitary meditation, often showing profound results of that meditation and revered for their internalized level of realization.

However, neither of monks nor nuns were literate much beyond the ability to read and recite the prayers.

After 1959, when many Tibetans fled Tibet, the large monastic institutions were re-established in exile. Far fewer nuns came out. Slowly institutions were established for the nuns, but just as the nuns in Tibet didn’t have education, neither did the new nunneries in India. That was the situation when the Tibetan Nuns Project started out.

Tibetan Buddhist Nun calligraphy

A Tibetan Buddhist nun in exile practices calligraphy. Educating the nuns is the core of our work. In the 1980s and 1990s, when hundreds of nuns were escaping from Tibet, the overwhelming majority of the nuns were totally illiterate. Most of the newly arrived nuns had had no education in their own language. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo

Q: Why is it important that nuns have equal access to education and the same opportunities as monks?
A: The goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project has always been to give the nuns access to education. It is a given, that in a modern world, you need education and a basic understanding to function well in modern society. In addition, it is limiting to push nuns towards the meditative retreat side of things. It is important to give nuns the same access that monks have to the philosophical, the conceptual understanding of their tradition. This means not just studying abstract philosophy; it is understanding the nature of reality so that you can apply that in your meditation to attain levels of realization. Our primary motivation was to open up to the nuns those levels for spiritual progress. But, additionally, they needed education simply to be able to manage their monastic institutions themselves, rather than relying always on male direction.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns getting their Geshema degree

In 2016, twenty nuns made history when they were awarded the Geshema degree. This degree is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and was only formally opened up to women in 2012. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

Q: What were some of the obstacles to setting up an education program for the nuns?
A: It was tricky because it wasn’t easy to find teachers. Also, the nunneries were dependent upon the financial support they got from the lay community coming for prayers, and those prayers took up the better part of the nuns’ days. They were concerned that if they set up a study program and nuns weren’t doing prayers all day, the nunneries wouldn’t get in enough funding to support them. So that was a big part of the sponsorship program that we started – to provide alternative support so that everyone wouldn’t have to spend all day doing prayers on behalf of the lay community – not that they weren’t willing to do those prayers, but we needed to find a way to make it not be the only thing for them to do. That was the starting point.

Q: What are some of the major accomplishments in education for the nuns so far?
A: The result of educating nuns is that we now have nuns who have been trained up to the point of the highest degree of their tradition, the Geshe degree (Geshema degree for the nuns).
Some of the major educational accomplishments are:

  • The creation of groundbreaking education program for nuns
  • Providing debate training for nuns for the first time in the history of Tibet
  • Supporting the annual Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate event, which provides one month of intensive training in debate
  • Enabling nuns to take the Geshema exams and pursue other higher degrees
  • Creating a Tantric Studies program for Geshemas to empower them to become teachers and leaders
educate women and girls collage Tibetan Nuns Project

A collage of photos of education of Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Bottom left photo courtesy of Olivier Adam; other photos courtesy of Brian Harris.

Q: Why is training in debate so important?
A: The system of education teaches rational, logical thought. The nuns (and monks) use a formalized style of debate in which you set out a premise and debate it. In Tibetan Buddhist debate, you have to prove two things about what you’re saying: (1) that whatever it is you’re trying to prove is true, that your reasoning is correct and (2) that the reason applies to what you’re trying to prove.

This is the opposite to advertising. For example, the advertising of beauty products says, “If you use this product, your life will be good.” This is false pervasion. Also, it can say things that are just not true. Conversely, debate teaches you to avoid that kind of illogical thinking.

Q: What can the world learn from the way the nuns debate?
A: Illogical thinking is what a lot of political discourse that we are hearing is based on. Things that are absolutely not true are being said. In addition, things are being said that may be true but don’t at all imply what is being drawn out of them. That is the real world that we live in.

The ability to see clearly and logically is the training that the nuns are doing. This helps them to not just accept things that aren’t true being presented as if they were. You can see through falsities and also see false pervasions such as “If you use this product, if you believe in this person, your life will be good.” That it is not necessarily going to happen. That is the real-world application. We gain by having a population who are educated in that way and have a clear understanding of what they are doing in the world.

It is also very important to the Buddhist philosophical tradition, which is not based on faith alone, but is based on developing a penetrating understanding of the nature of reality. This is the final purpose of the studies they have undertaken, and the years of study and debate are directed towards that.

Along the way, of course, this is a religious tradition, and in the Tibetan tradition, there is a great emphasis of developing universal love and compassion, of wishing the best for each and every living being. All those things are important components of the education that the nuns are receiving.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practice debate at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practice debate at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala. Tibetan Buddhist debate teaches many skills including critical thinking, logic, attentional focus, memory, and confidence in one’s reasoning skills. Until the 1990s, Tibetan nuns were not taught how to debate.

Q: How has educating the nuns created leaders, teachers, and role models?
A: We put in place these programs to open those kinds of studies up for nuns. Now, 30 years later, those groups of nuns have been able to pass through this entire course of study that have been followed by the monks for centuries. The nuns are starting to go out and take on roles of leadership in the community – they are teaching in the nunneries, some of them are teaching in the Tibetan schools, and one nun has been added to the election commission of the exile government based in Dharmsala. This is the impact, not just of their philosophical knowledge, but of their training and clear thought motivated by a compassionate wish to help.

Q: Do you see growing confidence in the nuns?
A: The nuns have growing confidence to take on leadership roles. Before, when the nuns didn’t know anything, when they hadn’t studied and they could barely read or write, they had no confidence. There was no way they could serve in these roles or as role models in their community. That has now changed. People see these nuns who are able to debate as well as the monks, who can hold their own in those kinds of contests, who exude this body language of confidence, who are also prepared to take on leadership roles. This has broadened the base out of potential leaders in the community from only one gender to both genders.

Tibetan incense handmade by Buddhist nuns

Tibetan incense is an important part of Tibetan culture and is used as an offering and for purification, meditation, healing, and relaxation.

Tibetan incense being made by hand by nuns. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

The nuns at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal make traditional, Tibetan-style stick incense. Income from the sales helps support the nunnery and, when purchased through the Tibetan Nuns Project, also helps support seven Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

The pleasing aroma of burning incense helps to calm one’s restless mind and helps meditators to focus on the breath.

Tibetan incense, inspiration incense

Our newest type of Tibetan incense available in the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. Inspiration incense is made by nuns at Kopan Nunnery and combines lemongrass, white sandalwood, and traditional Tibetan medicinal and aromatic ingredients.

Authentic Tibetan incense originates either from a traditional monastery or from a Tibetan medical institution. The formulations or recipes for incense may be many centuries old and follow a particular lineage which can be traced back to the originator.

The incense sold through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store is made in Nepal by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery. The nunnery, also known as Kopan Nunnery, is located in the Kathmandu Valley and is home to about 360 nuns.

The various types of incense sold by the Tibetan Nuns Project are of the highest quality, using only pure natural ingredients such as high-altitude plants and woods with proven healing properties.

Nuns at Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery in Nepal making incense. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

Nuns at Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery in Nepal making Tibetan incense. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

Types of Tibetan Incense Sold in Support of Nuns

All Tibetan incense sold through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store is all-natural and handmade by Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal. Your purchase help to support over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns at seven nunneries in India, as well as the nuns at Kopan Nunnery who make the incense.

nun making incense, Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Kopan Nunnery extrudes incense into lengths or coils. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

Inspiration – Lemongrass and white sandalwood are combined with traditional Tibetan medicinal and aromatic ingredients including Dhupi, Kaulo, and Sil Timur. It comes in a sustainable lokta (daphne) paper box with a small terracotta incense burner and list of ingredients. The style of the incense burner may vary. Each box includes approximately 30 sticks of incense measuring about 5 inches long.

Rhododendron Forest – The ingredients for this very special incense come from trees and herbs in the high mountains of the Solu Khumbu area. The scent is uplifting and refreshing, like a breath of fresh air from the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas.

Tibetan Nuns Project Incense – Contains a very clean, slightly sweet sandalwood and jasmine, with a hint of nutmeg. A great choice if you are new to Tibetan incense. The scent is a mixture of high-altitude plants and woods with proven healing properties. It invokes the special powers of Medicine Buddha to bring healing of body and mind. (Temporarily out of stock due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Lotus Blossom – The intensely fresh fragrance of this incense is freshly gathered juniper leaves and berries mixed with cedarwood and sandalwood. Its invigorating scent clears and uplifts the mind. (Temporarily out of stock due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

 Incense workshop at Kopan Nunnery. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

The workroom at Kopan Nunnery where nuns make traditional Tibetan incense. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

Geshema Delek Wangmo Sworn in as Election Commissioner

Geshema Delek Wangmo, a teacher at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, has been appointed as an Election Commissioner for the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.

Geshema Delek Wangmo , Geshema

Geshema Delek Wangmo takes the oath of office at the swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Tenzin Phende/CTA

She and Mr Sonam Gyaltsen, former Tibetan Parliamentarian and the incumbent senior Professor of the College for Higher Tibetan Studies (Sarah), were unanimously elected as Additional Election Commissioners of the Chief Election Commission by the members of the Standing Committee of the 16th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile. They were sworn in on August 3, 2020. The oath ceremony was attended by the top leadership of the exile Tibetan government. As commissioners, they will serve until the results of the final election are declared.

Geshema Delek Wangmo, Geshema

Mr Sonam Gyaltsen, former Tibetan Parliamentarian and Geshema Delek Wangmo, teacher of Dolma Ling Nunnery sworn in as new Additional Election Commissioners. Photo: Tenzin Phende/CTA

This is yet another historic accomplishment for Geshema Delek Wangmo and for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in general. Geshema Delek Wangmo graduated with her Geshema degree in 2017. She became one of the first Tibetan Buddhist nuns to pursue higher studies in Tantric Buddhism. Last year, she and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel made history when they were hired as teachers at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Earlier this spring, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India, asked Geshema Delek Wangmo to give a teaching on keeping a peaceful mind during a crisis through the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Tibetan Nuns Project congratulates Geshema Delek Wangmo on her many accomplishments. She and the other Geshemas are opening up new opportunities for Tibetan Buddhist nuns as teachers, leaders, and role models.

Brief Bio of Geshema Delek Wangmo

Geshema Delek Wangmo was born on 6 July 1961 in Lithang, Kham, Tibet. She became a nun at a very young age and received her monastic vows from Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. In 1988, Geshema Delek Wangmo along with some 100 Tibetan people set off on a pilgrimage to Lhasa from Lithang doing prostrations. On reaching Lhasa, the pilgrims were forbidden by the Chinese government to visit monasteries and their sacred destination – the Jokhang Temple containing the famous Jhoho statue of the Buddha. So the large group set off to the holy mountain of Mount Kailash. From there, in 1990 they escaped over the Himalayas to Nepal and then to India.

As per the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and under the care of Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, Geshema Delek Wangmo managed in a room rented from a local Indian until the construction of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute was sufficiently far along for the refugee nuns to move in. She completed studies in five major Buddhist texts from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.  In 2017, she received her Geshema Degree which is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist studies.

Geshema Delek Wangmo has always excelled in her studies. While doing her education, she has taken a leadership role at the nunnery holding various responsibilities and participating in numerous scholarly debates. In 2018, she was one of the first group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns who, having attained the Geshema degree, did a year of higher studies in Tantric Buddhism at Gyutoe Monastery. Geshema Delek Wangmo is currently working as a teacher in Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Geshema Delek Wangmo,

Heads of the three pillars of the Tibetan democratic system, Kalons and CTA functionaries at the swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Tenzin Phende/CTA